The Pirates! Band of Misfits – ★★★

Yaaarrrr me matees! For many years now, Aardman Animations have charmed audiences with their delightful stories and ‘clayful’ characters beginning with Creature Comforts, and then followed by their more memorable work in the form of Wallace and Gromit and the chick-flick Chicken Run (two puns already!). Now they are back with the adventurous animation The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Based on the quirky novels of author Gideon Defoe, Aardman succeed again in attracting some cracking stars with animated film debutante Hugh Grant leading the colourful voice cast which includes Martin Freeman, David Tennant and Salma Hayek. Let’s set sail and read on….

SYNOPSIS: In 1837, the charismatic pirate captain known only as….Pirate Captain (Grant) leads his savvy crew across the Seven Seas as they show ruthlessness towards the British armies. However the Captain’s main desire is to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award from rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Hayek) to prove he isn’t a rubbish pirate. During his quest, an attempted robbery onboard a ship sees the Captain encounter Charles Darwin (Tennant) who notices that the ship’s parrot, Polly is in fact the world’s last Dodo. Darwin manages to convince the Captain and his crew to come to London to showcase the bird but things get complicated when the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) steals the creature.

Once again ‘Aaaaarrr’dman look to have another slick and entertaining hit on their hands thanks to the film’s family-orientated approach with the odd bit of dark humour added in. The Victorian themed-setting provides the backdrop for the narrative where pirates are the outlaws across the Seven Seas. This leads to different bits of humour being thrown in as well as a pirate-like soundtrack including songs from The Clash and Jimmy Cliff. One can’t help but feel like you’re watching an animated version of Blackadder, only less rude and more playful as Aardman continue their obsession with cultural references. Some more viewings should do the trick when it comes to looking out for all these little puns and homages.

The animation also continues to be immaculate thanks to the dedicated work of those behind the scenes. This includes the clever usage of colour particularly the Pirate Bay which is depicted as being bright and glossy whereas Victorian London is shown as murky and sooty. Character animation also plays a part in the film’s success with many of the models designed to perfection particularly Martin Freeman’s Number Two who practically shares the same facial look as the man voicing him.

The vocal cast relies mostly on British actors which proves an effective move with credit going to the director Peter Lord for the impeccable casting of Hugh Grant. In what is his comeback role, Grant is tasked with voicing the jolly and suave Pirate Captain and brings much comedic depth to the character and making him a likable hero. Freeman, Brendan Gleeson and Ashley Jensen are also natural choices for their varied roles as the crew with Tennant adding a bit of smart yet cowardly humour to his voice of Charles Darwin. An even more inspired casting is Imelda Staunton as the cunning Queen Victoria who practically makes us dislike one of our own former monarchs with a deceitful performance. Finishing things off here, we have a couple of US stars contributing too with Entourage’s Jeremy Piven and the sexy Salma Hayek voicing the Captain’s two pirating rivals.

Of course The Pirates isn’t quite Aardman’s best animated flick especially as it misses the magical touch of creator Nick Park. The film’s humour feels somewhat lacking compared to its predecessors and is unlikely to appeal to children as much as the adults accompanying them. It’s also disappointing to see a big name like Hayek reduced to voicing an underused character who lacks the spark of her other recent character work as Kitty Softpaws in Puss in Boots.

VERDICT : Whilst lacking the brilliance of Wallace and Gromit, Pirates shivers the timbers of its audiences and continues Aardman’s impressive cinematic run without any need to walk the plank.

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